The Zululand community and the conservation world at large are in mourning following the sudden death of acclaimed conservationist and lauded ‘elephant whisperer’ Lawrence Anthony. Anthony, the son of Zululand Observer founder and current Managing Director Reg Anthony, died in his sleep in Johannesburg on Friday morning. He was 61 years old. Founder of The Earth Organisation, Anthony was due to hold a conservation gala dinner in Durban later this month to raise international awareness of the rhino-poaching crisis, and to launch his new book, ‘The Last of the Rhinos (The Powerful Story of One Man’s Battle to Save a Species)’. He was born in 1950 in Johannesburg, and matriculated at Empangeni High School in 1968. But before that, his childhood in Malawi, Zimbabwe and Zambia had imbued him with a deep love for the ‘African bush’. He lived on his beloved game reserve and animal rehabilitation centre, Thula Thula Private Game Reserve near Heatonville.
A life well lived
Anthony was internationally acclaimed for his conservation projects. He was also an international explorer, sought-after public speaker and best-selling author. Anthony’s rescue of the Baghdad Zoo animals during the coalition invasion of Iraq in April 2003 received international acclaim. After the invasion he was appointed administrator of the zoo by the US Army, being responsible for the stabilisation and rehabilitation of wildlife and overseeing veterinarian care. His subsequent book ‘Babylon’s Ark’ won critical acclaim, and may be made into a film with the working title ‘Good Luck Mr Anthony’ that has been commissioned by Beacon Pictures in Los Angeles.
His second book, ‘The Elephant Whisperer’, was an international bestseller and was translated into French, German, Italian and Chinese. In 2007, Lawrence submitted the Wildlife in Warzones draft resolution to the United Nations in New York. The draft obliges member states to protect wildlife and the environment in war zones and to treat zoos, game reserves, marine parks, veterinary facilities and game rangers as illegitimate targets of war. In the same year, Anthony conducted an expedition deep into the jungles of the Democratic Republic of Congo to meet with leaders of the notorious Lords Resistance Army (LRA), a Ugandan rebel group involved in a 20-year war with the Ugandan government.
He addressed the entire military high command on the need for peace, and reinforced an agreement reached with the political wing in Southern Sudan, to protect the critically endangered Northern White Rhino and the Congo pygmy giraffe. This period is the subject of his latest book. Feted all over the world, Anthony’s principle focus throughout his life was his work with Zululand rural communities, and his belief that they should see the benefits of conservation. Anthony created two African reserves, the Royal Zulu biosphere situated south of the Umfolozi Game Reserve in KZN, and the Mayibuye Community Game Reserve at Camperdown, KZN.
Anthony was also known for his humanitarian work, which included being a principal guest speaker at the first Iraq Human Rights Conference held in Kurdistan that started the formal process to introduce human rights into Iraq. He also presented the South African model for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to members of the Iraq Governing Council and senior members of the Iraq judiciary. On his expedition to the DRC, he convinced the LRA to halt attacks on civilians in northern Uganda.
Anthony leaves behind his wife Francoise, sons Jason and Dylan, grandsons Ethan and Brogan, brother Gavin and sister Terry, as well as a beloved extended family. His funeral has been tentatively planned for Thursday in Durban. Further details regarding the venue and time will be posted as soon as arrangements have been confirmed, on both the Zululand Observer and Thula Thula websites. (www.zululandobserver.co.za and www.thulathula.com)
‘One of Zululand’s greatest’
Conservationist, best-selling author, activist, ambassador and an ordinary decent man. Lawrence Anthony’s colleagues, acquaintances, friends and fans were shocked and saddened by the news of his death. But all emphasised that his legacy lived on.
This is what some of them had to say:
I have been close to the Anthony family for many years. I worked with his mother, Regina, who remains a close friend. The family has suffered a great loss. Lawrence will be missed by many. We are all proud of what he achieved internationally as a conservationist. People throughout the world respected him. But here in Zululand, we considered him one of our own and one of our greatest.
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi
I was very much saddened by the news of the passing of Lawrence Anthony just when the University of UKZN had decided to recognise his immense contribution to nature conservation with a Honorary Doctorate in Science (Honoris Causa). Also it was when we were discussing the launch of his new book – which was planned for 29 March – at the ‘Last Rhino’ dinner at the ICC, which was to have been attended by about 2 000 international conservationists. I mention these two events to emphasise the uniqueness of Anthony as a human being and world-renowned leader in nature conservation.
The cause of saving our planet, our natural habitat, as well as our animal heritage, has suffered a crippling blow with the passing of its champion. I was privileged to have worked with him on some of his projects, such as creating the Royal Zulu Game Park, incorporating Thula Thula up to Mfolozi. He brought nature conservation awareness to the tribal communities of KwaBiyela and KwaMthethwa. It was an incredible achievement. We salute you Lawrence for your untiring efforts to save the planet and its animal heritage.
I can’t think of anyone from conservation who was so impressive. I can’t think of any politician who does more nation-building. We went together to Kinshasa to try and save the last few rhino in the Congo and we fought the Kruger Park on the culling of elephants. We had a Press conference at the airport. He was so affable and friendly, but there was no mistaking his seriousness. He introduced me to the LRA (Lords Resistance Army) people in Pretoria after he had met them in the heat and dust. Lawrence got them to agree to protect the rhino and to repair the terrain. The UN heads in Congo were so impressed they offered him all sorts of assistance. It was a privilege to know Lawrence and to serve with him. He was marvellous. How does one appraise such a person? A magnificent legacy.
Dr Ian Raper – National President of the Southern Africa Association for the Advancement of Science (est 1902)
He was a close and dear friend. I met him for the first time in Kinshasa, Congo where I was working for the United Nations peacekeeping mission. We kept up our friendship and met more often when I was based in Pretoria heading the MONUC (UN Congo Mission) office in South Africa from 2008-10. He was an indefatigable person and was involved in many projects and interests. Not many people know that he was also in contact with the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and its leader Joseph Kony in South-West Sudan and Northern Uganda, primarily to protect white rhinos, but also to contribute to bringing the long running civil war to an end. Since my return to Pakistan in July 2010, we were also thinking of establishing a chapter of Earth Organization in Pakistan. He was a wonderful human being, simple and down to earth, brave and affectionate. I will miss him dearly as will his numerous family, friends and colleagues world over. May his soul rest in eternal peace forever.
Mujahid Alam, Pakistan
Lawrence’s life was a true reflection of an extraordinary man who lived by the mantra that nothing is insurmountable. His initiatives will continue to make a massive impact in the world of conservation.
Yvette Taylor, executive director of The Earth Organisation
I always thought of him as indestructable. His enthusiasm was infectious. As concerns his involvement in local communities, he was very genuine. He was old fashioned in that way, his heart was totally in it.
Peter Rutsch, lawyer specialising in land issues, who worked with Anthony to establish the Royal Zulu biosphere
I wish to extend my condolences to his friends and family. He was a great man, we had great plans to take our conservation plans to Africa. I am saddened by his passing on but I will continue with the work we started together. Two weeks ago we addressed stakeholders at Thula Thula , we had such fun. We had so many plans, we were going to approach overseas football clubs to join in our Ezemvelo Cup and take it to the next level. We were going to tie up conservation and sport. We were looking forward to a number of projects. I hope he Rests in Peace, he was a real icon for all of us in conservation, and his projects will live far beyond his life. We had a shared passion for communities and I promise that I will continue that, so that at the end of the day communities benefit from conservation.
Dr Bandile Mkhize, CEO of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife
Back in 2008, I was lucky enough to spend a week with Lawrence and Frankie at Thula Thula. I subsequently wrote a profile that would appear in Men’s Journal magazine in the USA (the story is posted at www.tomclynes.com). I don’t think I have ever met anyone so capable of winning unwinnable battles. Lawrence was a get-things-done presence in a realm – conservation – in which passion and science often sink in the cautious currents of inertia and rhetoric. There was certainly a romantic edge to his ‘screw it, let’s go’ approach – a sincere and sometimes naïve attitude that you’d have to call quixotic, if it wasn’t so abidingly effective. His obdurate sense of justice may be what drove him from one adventure to the next, but it was balanced by a child-like curiosity and mischievousness – as well as an utter disregard for his own limitations.
Tom Clynes, author, Michigan, USA
I’m gutted he’s gone but know I’m privileged to have been part of his adventures. His personality, drive and vision opened doors that appeared at first to be shut. I hope his enormous legacy will continue to inspire those who have ever had the privilege to have known the real Lawrence Anthony.
Brendan Whittington-Jones, EWT
He was not only our boss, but a friend, a mentor and a father-figure.
Our hearts are broken, but we will continue to work along the path he has created for us.
Marissa Lenting, Assistant to Lawrence Anthony
Writing about Lawrence is easy. There is so much about the man and his endeavours that were always filled with boundless energy and enthusiasm, yet tempered with realism. The difficult part is to find the right words that actually describe this Lion of a man. It springs to mind that Lawrence was a force of nature, but I think it more apt that he was a natural force. Compelling in his thinking, lucid in his reasoning, and that rarest of all qualities, an attentive listener with the ability to recollect events, within their relevant context. Lawrence chose to be involved in matters that lay close to his heart, and I think that was because it was how he knew to live best. With his heart. Listening to it, and acting to it. Hamba Kahle Nkosi wa se Ndlovu kha Thula Thula. I salute you, Lawrence Anthony.
Messages also flooded the Zululand Observer’s Facebook page.
When you were born they threw the mould away. Thank you for the inspiration you were to all of us, especially for the adventures and crazy happenings you brought into our lives and, above all, for your laughter and love. Your passing brought an irreplaceable void in our family but you will always remain in our hearts and minds.
YOUR LOVING MOTHER